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Just one more article to add to the thousands that have been written about CRISPR-Cas9, but the hype is absolutely worth it. CRISPR-Cas9 has caused what could be described as a revolution in the world of genetic engineering. Domains that were once considered out of reach are now fully within reach as scientists are able to use this new tool on the block to manipulate the DNA of almost all living things. But we are not the first species to make use of CRISPR, bacteria, and archaea have us beaten to the punch. These microbes have been using CRISPR-Cas9 as a weapon in their endless battles against the microbe-eating viruses known as bacteriophages.
The diversity of the CRISPR-Cas system
Scientists say they are amazed at how diversely the CRISPR-Cas system functions. Up until now, scientists have classified CRISPR systems into six categories, denoted I to VI, and they all have different properties, structures, and modes of execution; CRISPR-Cas9 is in category II and works differently from the others.
Humans have never stopped asking variations of this question, “What if this, but more?” So, in a bid to create even more diversification, Han Altae-Tran, Soumya Kannan and other scientists at MIT have created an algorithm known as fast locality-sensitive hashing–based clustering (FLSHclust). This algorithm functions to analyze genetic sequences in open sources that contain a massive number of sequences from various archaea and bacteria.
Using the algorithm, they found approximately 188 new genes linked to CRISPR, including a type VII CRISPR system that supposedly aims at RNA. They tested them shortly after and discovered that CRISPR systems attack phages using a variety of techniques, such as unraveling the DNA double strands and making precise cuts that permit the insertion or deletion of genes. Additionally, they discovered “anti-CRISPR” DNA fragments that could aid a phage in eluding bacterial defenses.
The FLSHclust algorithm is a veritable treasure trove for biochemists. Not only is it a significant advancement in the bioengineering field in its own right, but it will also enable scientists to search for different protein types in different species with a great degree of accuracy. The new members of the CRISPR family that have been discovered also promise a safer approach to using genome editing for therapeutic purposes.
The world of bioengineering has scientists on the move, trying to find cures for genetic diseases, and it warms the heart to see breakthroughs such as this being achieved. The advances made with the CRISPR-Cas system make numerous genetic sequences available that could be identified and used to provide great benefits to the human race.
Han Altae-Tran et al., Uncovering the functional diversity of rare CRISPR-Cas systems with deep terascale clustering.Science382,eadiFunctional. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.adi1910